ABC shouldn’t have suspended Whoopi Goldberg
First things first. I’m not here to pile on to Whoopi. In fact, I think ABC News president Kim Godwin made a big mistake in suspending her.
I’ll confess, I was outraged when I heard about Whoopi Goldberg’s assertion that “the Holocaust isn’t about race…it’s about man’s inhumanity to man.”
Well yes…it certainly is about that, but claiming that it wasn’t about race shows a fundamental lack of knowledge about how the Nazis justified that inhumanity.
What disturbed me even more was one of her follow-up comments, when she received pushback about that assertion from her cohosts and responded with “but these are two white groups of people.”
I couldn’t help wondering how Whoopi would feel if I said of the Rwandan genocide on nationwide television: “but these are two groups of Black people.”
Her assertion was problematic on multiple levels. Firstly, by claiming that it was just ‘white on white crime,’ to paraphrase a popular white supremacist talking point, it erases the breadth and diversity of our Jewish faith. It might come as a shock for many to know that Jews come from all around the world. We’re not all light-skinned.
Goldberg’s statement also ignores historical fact, as this chart from the USHMM shows:
I’ve been reading about the Holocaust since I was a girl, but it wasn’t until I started researching my upcoming YA novel, Some Kind of Hate (Scholastic, Nov 22) that I realized just how much the Nazis drew inspiration from race laws in the US and South Africa when they created the Nuremberg Laws, which were used to strip German Jews of their legal protections, their citizenship, their property, and ultimately their lives.
I don’t think Goldberg was coming from a place of malice, and greatly appreciate her apology -the later one, not the one on Colbert, in which she appeared to blame people for not getting her point. “I’m very upset that people seem to have misunderstood what I was saying.”
It’s wrong to call her an antisemite. Rather, she showed a lack of deep knowledge about the history of the Nazi regime that led to the Holocaust.
But while her intentions might have been benign, coming from her perspective as a Black woman in the United States, what she said is dangerous nonetheless.
when you take the racism out of the evil ways in which people treat each other, you make it more difficult to identify racism as the source of — and a warning sign for — that evil. Many people on the right, in particular, are eager to divorce fascist authoritarianism from its specific roots in racism and racist violence.
This is how you get anti-vaxxers pinning yellow stars on themselves to suggest that they are oppressed by vaccine mandates. For them, fascism was bad because it was a generalized instance of state coercion in which freedoms were curtailed. They erase the specific experience of Jewish people and the specific experience of racism as a trigger for genocidal violence. Denying the racist roots of the Holocaust enables bad actors to try to appropriate Nazi imagery and Jewish suffering.
Still, suspending Whoopi was a terrible decision on ABC’s part. It forgoes an important opportunity to use network’s platform to educate further at a time when antisemitism is on the rise.
“I don’t believe in cancel culture,” Greenblatt said on Don Lemon tonight. “I like the phrase that my friend Nick Cannon uses: We need counsel culture. We shouldn’t cancel Whoopi because she made a mistake.”
It seems particularly egregious that a Black woman who is clearly willing to both apologize and learn has been suspended for two weeks when Tucker Carlson is preaching white nationalism, celebrating the fascist, antisemitic regime of Viktor Orban, and promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories on Fox News every night.
We need more honest, uncomfortable conversations about race and how it’s been used as a construct for persecution and genocide, not fewer.
Originally published at https://medium.com on February 3, 2022.